Saturday, December 03, 2005


Three Easy Pieces for Piano

So yesterday I wandered off to the local music store.  I’ve always been amazed that anyone buys those SACD versions of Sony “Living Stereo” recordings from the mid 50’s.  Even the back of the case says, “these are stereo recordings.”  In my mind, the only reason I’d ever buy an SACD is to get extra channels of audio (for example, four channels would be great for Dance/4 Orchestras, and if you could get all eight tapes of Williams Mix on a separate speaker?  Ahhh...).  But I can’t see the rationale in buying dusty old stereo recordings on SACD.  I guess so maybe your dog can hear an extra few kHz of tape hiss?  

But what took the cake yesterday was a 1940’s era mono recording on SACD.  Wha...?  

I may have said this on here before, but I’ll say it again—I’m pretty sure Sony made about 10-15 recordings back in 1955, and they’ve been selling the same ones ever since, over and over again.

Now, as I promised, today (technically last night, but I am posting today) is “old stuff” day.  But I didn’t have quite enough old stuff to fill up 45 minutes, so I will make it “old a bunch of Freeman Etudes” because I need to get through all of those soon.  

Three Easy Pieces for Piano
These pieces from 1933 are, well, pretty easy to play, and easy on the ears.  The first is titled Round, and features a sweet and swift little ear-pleasing melody.  The second, called Duo, feels more austere and serious, but I’m not clear why it is a “duo.”  The final movement, the Infinite Canon, is not especially memorable and quite brief (although the name suggests it could be repeated over and over again, in which case it would be not especially memorable, but very long).  In this rendition, the whole track is 57 seconds, with about 15 inexplicable seconds of silence at the end.  

Hmm, apparently the Round is in harmonic A minor, and I am impressed that I actually sort of remember what that means.  

Three Songs for Voice and Piano
Of the music I listened to last night, this was the worst.  Again, 1933.  The piano doesn’t do much but provide a pretty sparse accompaniment to the voice, which sings in “Twenty Years After” basically a few permutations of the title.  I’m not clear what we’re twenty years after.  

The second song, “It Is As It Was” is memorable because it starts with “If it was to be a s’prise.”  I presume this is short for surprise.  The rest of the song is just, again, permutations of the title, such as “it is to be what it was and it was so it was as it was as it is is as is as it is and as it is and as it is and as it was.”  Good gracious!  

The third song has the wacky title of “At East and Ingredients.”  This time we don’t even get permutations, it’s just plain repetitions of the title for about a minute.  

The tone of voice doesn’t seem to vary an enormous amount through any of the songs, but it does take on an operatic air, and consequently the songs are hilarious: our vocalist sings such ridiculous lyrics with such great passion!  You can tell he’s truly moved by being at East and Ingredients, and is deeply concerned about the fact that it was as it is is as is as...Anyway, this stuff is for completists only I think.  Text is by Getrude Stein, for what that’s worth.

Freeman Etudes Nos. 9-16
I’ll reiterate my previous comment that I bet these etudes (all from 1977) are way more fun for the performer to produce than for me to listen to.  I was entertained by the wildly high pitches the violin is capable of, such as a long whistling in number twelve.  The rapid shifting between extreme notes is also intriguing at times.  Still, the music does get a little tiring on my ears after half an hour.  I’d never make it through a performance of them all.  I went into a half asleep trance-like state this time, and was sort of dreaming about Cage.  I specifically noted in my head that the Etudes sound like furniture being moved across a gymnasium floor.  Then I wondered, could this be furniture music?  Then I decided, no, Furniture Music Etc. was scored for piano...

Sonata for Two Voices
This is a bit of atonal music in three movements from 1933, featuring repetitions of 25 tones with each instrument having a two octave range.  Often there is a degree of competition between the two voices, each trying to steal at the listener’s attention, with the possible exception of the second movement.  Cage succeeds in making the music appealing, even without the repetitions of melodies my brain is so desperate for.  The instruments are unspecified but appear to be too woodwinds in my recording.

Prelude for Six Instruments in A Minor
The disc I got this from called it a piano sextet, but it’s obviously not, and instead features flute, bassoon, trumpet, violin, cello and piano.   Apparently it’s the same as the second of the 1946 Two Pieces, which in turn contains stuff from The Seasons.  I rather enjoy this performance.  The strings, piano and brass seem to be subordinate to the flute throughout most of the work; they often seem almost random in comparison to the longing melody of the flute.  There is quite a bit of silence in the piece, in the beginning; the ending is rather anticlimactic.  It just sort of dies.  I wonder if it’s perhaps incomplete?

Two Pieces for Piano 1935 (revision)
Another bit of atonal music with the creative titles of “Slowly” and “Quite Fast.”  This is the 1974 revision of the 1935 work.  It evidently features repetitions of small fragments of melody, using a twelve tone row.  The first piece is pretty distinctive, and the last half or so features one of the hands playing a rhythmic repetition of two notes, which I didn’t expect would be allowed given the tone row constraints of the piece.  The second piece is, obviously, played very quickly.  I feel each hand is playing a quick competing and repeating melodic line, with the right having more notes.  There is no pause in the music; it continually climbs up, then falls down, and so on, and eventually just seems to fade out.  When I hear the original version, I’ll see if I can pinpoint what the revisions were!

re: the freeman etudes.
i dont think they are so fun for the performer to play either. these pieces are fiendishly difficult and impossible to play in some places. some of cage's hyper virtuoso music.

as far as chairs scraping on a floor, there is an early lamonte young piece that does just that. fantastic!!!!
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